February 03, 2015 Practice Points

Toughening Child Abuse Laws in Pennsylvania

By Jessalyn Schwartz

As of December 31, 2014, new regulations combining 21 pieces of legislation have been enacted following recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection. In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the regulations seek to expand the definition of child abuse, identify mandated reporters, develop a more clear idea of who an alleged perpetrator may be, and improve record-keeping and data sharing among law enforcement.

Previously, child abuse was defined as where a child suffered "serious physical injury," which typically meant severe pain or lasting impairments. Under the new law, the standard lowers to include "bodily injury," requiring "impairment of a physical condition," or substantial pain. Additionally, the definition of possible perpetrators has expanded to include relatives who do not live with the child and a parent's spouse or significant other. This is an important distinction, as it now allows for social workers to intervene and trigger the requirement of registering with the state as a child abuser.

The regulations have now changed the way these crimes are reported, requiring mandated individuals such as clergy, doctors, teachers, and some attorneys to report abuse to authorities through a hotline, rather than to a supervisor. Other changes include data sharing between counties and law enforcement, background checks for those working in schools and in direct contact with children, and training for certain mandated reporters, such as care providers and teachers. Read more.

Jessalyn Schwartz is a member of the ABA Children and the Law Advisory Task Force in Boston, Massachusetts.

Copyright © 2015, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).